Dear Minga, Food, and Lack Of (in two parts)

Part 1: Oh, to eat!

Dear Minga,

May I fill a whole letter speaking exclusively about food? Writing a love letter to the culinary creations that I’ve experienced as I’ve traveled to countries–and continents–new to me?

You are my favorite foodie counterpart, dearest love; one I adore adventuring with through plates of deliciousness more than nearly any other. So it seems only fitting that I take some time today to speak of several meals that have been highlights of my time over the past month.

I will start first with the last leg of the trip: Hong Kong. One of the things that impressed me most about this brilliant, explosive, international city was the food. Everything – everything! – I tasted was fantastic. And there was an overwhelming abundance of options: from big main street, to winding avenue, to tiny alleyway, all were densely populated with restaurants offering food of all different types.

Our first meal consisted of a beautiful meal with Peking Duck as main course (of course I thought of you), surrounded by a fabulous sizzling rice soup with seafood and duck broth. The latter was the restaurant’s specialty for a reason–it featured some of the best flavors & textural combinations of my recent history! We accompanied these beautiful dishes with sauteed Chinese spinach, steamed tofu with scallops and fermented black beans, and lettuce wraps with minced duck meat and aromatic spices. I’ll be so bold as to steal a term coined aptly by my Millenial counterparts: #nom.

The following night’s sushi dinner, at a casual chain, was also spectacularly delicious: the fish was fresh as I’ve ever tasted (okay, minus that one orgasmic sushi bar in Japan), the rice beautifully seasoned, the presentation impeccable. And we watched the sushi chef make the egg pancake with astounding mastery–a feat I’ve never before witnessed!

We scored again the next day, outside of the urban center: in Shek Oh, the beach/fishing village we ended up at after our Dragon’s Back hike. We found a vintage-feeling Chinese & Thai joint where we ate a hearty, perfect assortment of dishes: stir-fried morning glory with chilis, vegetable green curry, steamed whole red mullet fish (served fiery hot on a bed of sweet napa cabbage, topped with vermicelli and swimming with a broth of whole garlic and fresh herbs), and even a fried pigeon–gamey but fantastic, served simply with salt to top.

I could go on. Should I go on? To the dim sum, to the wild breakfast soups, to the truly authentic spicy Thai pomelo salads?! I’m afraid I’ll leave you with saliva drips on your computer keyboard 😉 Suffice it to say: I could move here incentivized by the food alone. And they’ve got an amazing local app called Open Rice that lists all the favorite joints, with reviews and pictures and so much more–think Yelp but, like, 10 times quicker and cooler and more effective.

Zooming all the way back to where our trip started, for a moment, I want to speak of biltong. I first encountered this in our welcome package from our Airbnb hosts in Cape Town. This dried meat treat is traditional to South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Namibia; reminiscent of jerky in many ways, though apparently it is made differently (and always without smoke). Biltong can vary in thickness and chewiness, and is most quintessentially flavored with coriander, black pepper, and vinegar. (You would–or perhaps already do!–make a mean version.) And, amazingly, it’s often used as a teething aid for children! I crowed in delight when I heard this, thinking of a scene just before my departure, with little Kele gnawing on a piece of jerky at the Korean restaurant.

The bag of ostrich biltong we chewed our way through was sliced thin and cut in small pieces, relatively tender, kicky from the peppercorns. We were also served some made from beef at our afternoon teas, a staple of our days while on safari. Generally full of sweet delicacies (think British high tea, done-up with distinctive African flair), though there were always some savory options also available.


Part 2:

Dearest Minga,

I spent much of my trip waiting with bated breath and dangling saliva to write to you about my culinary adventures. There are so many meals to detail! So many unexpected flavor combinations; so many ingredients I’d rarely or never before experienced; so many mom & pop joints with such distinctive character that I wanted to let you crawl through a teleportation tunnel and be there with me. Or at least, in the absence of teleportation, see and feel and hear and smell and taste, through my senses, as if your own.

And then – now – on my return to town, I am bludgeoned by a digestive tract that can’t even stomach a thought of food–let alone, a declaration of love for it! How wistful I have been feeling, both without the nourishment that food provides, and without the nourishment I receive from engaging with it: through writing, pictures, and smells. I know you are this way, too. I imagine when you were pregnant, when your palate and desires changed, when you suddenly couldn’t tolerate scents or tastes that you’d previously felt neutral toward (or even enjoyed!). What a wild and desperate experience it is for me, to know how much potential enjoyment lies stored in a meal, a set of raw ingredients, a flavor profile–and to have all of that be completely inaccessible due to factors beyond my control.

That being said: because I’ve written in previous letters about forms of non-physical nourishment, I will deviate from theme and move to (disparate) variation: being nourished by place. Dearest one, do you ever play that game I do: when visiting a place, walking through the streets and imagining being a resident there? Wondering what it would be like? And sometimes, wishing you could make that your reality, rather than going back to the home you’ve chosen for all the “right” reasons?

None of the places I visited are perfect. Portland is my home–our home–for very valid and worthy reasons. But still, it’s fun to dream, and pair those dreams with the reality of knowing that I truly derived a whole new form of nourishment from each of the countries I visited. South Africa nourished me through its vibrant colors, its breathtaking scenery, its facilitation of connection with dear friends and extended family. Botswana nourished me through breathtaking encounters with its animal inhabitants; the desert and marshes and sun, too, were strong and powerful sustenance. The Seychelles nourished me with the sound of crashing waves, and days spent battling and being buffered by them. Sri Lanka nourished me with its haphazard vibrancy, totally disordered but primally sustaining; Hong Kong nourished me with its immaculate vibrancy: effortless, mesmerizing, ordered to an extreme. Each of these places, I could visit again and be sustained by. Whether or not my tummy was up for the most extreme and extravagant food forays.

I trust I will be able to give you plenty more glimpses into my recent dining terrains in person. In lieu of whole descriptive scenes, I will paint you brief vignettes, accompanied by pictures I will show you that we can swoon together. I am looking forward with such joy. You have been–always are–so strongly in my heart.

I love you. See you tomorrow.

PS Today’s cover photo was a hilarious menu found in Hong Kong. I told you there was quite an extreme of food available….!

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